- General Mills described sales of its reformulated Trix as "great" and exceeding expectations, even though kids in test groups easily noticed the lack of blue and green puffs -- which the company has yet to find natural color replacements for, according to technology director for General Mills Erika Smith, during a presentation at the IFT Annual Meeting and Food Expo this week.
- The company is still working to remove other artificial ingredients. Additionally, she said, "anything with an abbreviation needs to go." That includes BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), which preserves freshness.
- Flavor and shelf life are still two primary focuses as the company makes the switch to natural ingredients, or else "the consumer is not going to buy it again," Smith said.
General Mills' experience represents the struggle manufacturers have when making products that appeal to both kids and their parents. Kids were the first to notice that the blue and green Trix pufffs were missing from the new version, while parents were more likely to pay attention to the use of fruit and vegetable juices and seasoning extracts as natural colorings.
Frank said that colors "make breakfast fun for kids," but finding natural sources for colors often means balancing the "off flavors" that can come with them. Often manufacturers have done this by adding sugar, fat, salt, or other flavor-enhancing components. But adding too much of these components can impact the texture of the product or impact parents' perception of it, such as containing too much sugar per serving.
New food technology and ingredients may soon help manufacturers overcome some of the flavor barriers that prevent them from using certain natural colorings. The startup Mycotechnology has developed a way for manufacturers to use invisible fungi molecules that work on consumers' taste buds to block the bitter flavors that manufacturers have had to mask by adding sugar in the past.
General Mills first announced its commitment to removing artificial colors and flavors from its cereals in June 2015. By mid-January, the company announced that 75% of its cereals met that commitment. This week, the company said 90% of its cereals use only natural colors and flavors.
Many of the concerns around manufacturers' interactions with kids have involved marketing, particularly for products parents consider "junk food" or otherwise unhealthy. But recent research has shown that manufacturers can use their marketing prowess to have the opposite effect and to encourage healthy eating habits in kids.
General Mills could play a role here as it continues to remove artificial ingredients from its cereals. The company could market these changes not only to parents but specifically in a way that younger consumers would understand and appreciate.